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Fourth International, April 1946


Press Clippings

The German Desert


From Fourth International, April 1946, Vol.7 No.4, p.126.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


“Faced with a disaster overwhelming a whole nation,” Norman Clark, the Berlin correspondent of the New Chronicle reported “Allied Public health authorities are ordering burgomasters to take measures ensuring the easy burial of the dead in the winter. Graves are to be dug now which men debilitated by weeks of under-nourishment will not have the strength to dig in a few months’ time.”

Imagine for a moment that this report had appeared, not in a British paper in September 1945, but in a Nazi paper some time before the battle of Stalingrad; imagine that the town from which it was written was, not Berlin, but Warsaw or Kharkov or Amsterdam. A wave of horror would have swept the free world; no words would have been strong enough to denounce the barbarity unveiled by this report. We shuddered, almost incredulously, when we read the full story of Belsen. Yet, what is happening now, after the defeat of Nazi Germany and the collapse of Fascism everywhere, is nothing less than the transformation of a large part of Germany, as well as of Austria, into one huge Belsen. We are as efficient, it appears, as the Nazis were – ordering men to dig their own graves before their energy is sapped by hunger, cold and disease.

In Berlin, and in other places, almost every piece of machinery, of office furniture and equipment of any description has been removed and sent East. The same goes, to a large extent, for the private belongings of the inhabitants from bicycles and bedding to telephones, watches and cameras. Most livestock that could be found has been requisitioned; practically every vehicle, from horse carts to locomotives and wagons (including trains running in the British zone of Berlin), that can be got hold of is going East. This means that the local population is left practically without food and without tools or other means of repairing their houses, roads and sewers, etc., and without the means of producing the most primitive necessities of life. Similar conditions prevail in Vienna.

But this is only part of the picture. In violation of the Potsdam agreement, the wholesale expulsion of all Germans from the Polish occupied area east of the rivers Oder and Neisse and from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia is bringing a stream of utterly destitute refugees into the Berlin area. There is no food, shelter, clothing or medical attention for them there, so they are driven out to die on the roads or to starve in camps, just as the Nazis’ victims were left to starve in Belsen. And this is not a handful of people: some eight to nine million human beings are affected, among them staunch anti-Nazis.

The effects of all this can be summed up in a few figures. It has been officially stated from Berlin that for the first month of joint Allied occupation, the death rate there has reached 61 per thousand, and the infant mortality rate well over 50 per cent. At least 10 per cent of all women between 15 and 45 suffer from syphilis, while in some areas the figure is as high as 50 per cent.

No one with a spark of imagination can seriously believe that this can last, or that the armies of occupation can, for an unspecified number of years, be debased to the role of complacent administrators of ruin and decay. Sixty million people who have been deprived of a large part of their country in the East and are now pressed into a greatly diminished area cannot live without industries. Nor is there the faintest hope for the eventual democratization of Germany in such conditions, while word alike “re-education” have become cynical mockery.

Moreover, the policy of non-rehabilitation is lunacy from the point of view of Europe as a whole as much as from the point of view of Germany. Europe is desperately short, not only of coal, but of all the industrial products that Germany could provide. Yet the Ruhr coal production is today about 15 per cent of what it was in the pre-war years, and the iron production in the Ruhr is perhaps 1 per cent of the 1944 figure.

“The trouble is” the Economist pointed out last week, “that the prosperity of Western Europe has depended to a great extent on the existence of a great wealth-producing industrial concentration in the Ruhr. That wealth-producing machinery is now almost completely idle, and all Germany’s Western neighbors are bearing the consequences ... Throughout Europe, economic life is a series of bottlenecks. In most countries, even in bombed Germany, the industrial capacity exists. What has broken down is the organization and direction which kept the wheels turning and the machines supplied.”

From the London Tribune, September 14, 1945.

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